|Safe Routes to School|
According to the Federal Highway Association, 42 percent of children in the United States aged five to eighteen walked or bicycled to school in 1962. By 2001, 85 percent of children were driven to school by car or bus, and only 13 percent walked and 2 percent bicycled. Meanwhile, rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed as has traffic congestion around schools.
This is the impetus behind the Safe Routes to School Program administered by FHA since 2005, when it was included in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The five-year, $612 million program was authorized to run through 2009 and at this writing was included in the next surface transportation bill reauthorization. It targets child obesity, traffic congestion and the environment by funding state and local school district activities that promote biking and walking by students to and from school. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership cites data that indicates that student bicyclists and walkers account for about 14 percent of all school commutes.
One of the most popular and visible of these activities are "walking school buses" of school children walking to and from school escorted by parents or other community volunteers. Safe Routes fosters cooperation among school officials, law enforcement and transportation planners and represents an additional way for school transportation departments to receive federal dollars. Transportation professionals are encouraged to influence how the money is spent, as these personnel often manage school crossing guards and other planning necessary for child safety to and from school in addition to operating school buses. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services lobbied in 2009 to have school bus stops included in eligible projects for infrastructure funds, but at this writing such a provision to increase the safety of students who live farther than two miles from school and must walk to and from their bus stops, sometimes along dangerous roads with little or no sidewalks or along bus highways.
Safe Routes also helps fund traffic enforcement around schools, construction of new neighborhood schools in locations with fewer traffic hazards and renovation of existing schools to make them more bike and walk friendly. Funds also exist for programs that educate and train school children on bicycle and walking safety rules and community outreach.
In February 2009, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership published a program resources on "Creative and Safe Solutions to School Bus Cuts" amid a perplexing economy. Based on national averages, eliminating one bus route saves a school district approximately $37,000. In the summer of 2008, when fuel prices were at their peak, approximately one-third of schools consolidated bus routes in some way.
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|Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 16:01|